新年快乐!

Today, January 31st, is the first day of a new Chinese year, and 2014 is a year of the horse.

I had been excited about spending Chinese Newyear, also called the Spring Festival, in China for once, instead of watching the firecrackers and lion dances in Chinatown at home. Yet, I’d also been warned not to expect too much of CNY in Shanghai. After all, this is the time of the year when everyone goes back to their hometown which is often not anywhere near Shanghai.

For New Year’s eve I was invited to spend it with a friend’s family in one of Shanghai’s suburbs, Baoshan. In China, this is the evening everyone’s home for a big family meal. And that was true in this family as well, the food was getting to the table in an endless stream it seemed.

After dinner we moved in front of the television for this year’s TV gala. The gala is an evening-long show presenting the best entertainment China has to offer, or at least that’s what it looks like. Though I couldn’t understand everything that was said, it was interesting to watch: songs about the Chinese dream, supported by visuals of rolling green hills and acres of grain, dance performances following the achievements of the Red Army, and comic sketches on current social issues. It was clearly meant to be much more than just entertainment.

Later we went outside to set off some firecrackers (LOUD!!!), and walked around the neighbourhood to see more of the fireworks. In the days preceding I had seen bits and pieces of news that the fireworks could likely be less this year because of the current air pollution levels. That, or just being in a city and not being in a small village somewhere: I have to admit I was underwhelmed. Yes, it was noisy, and there were loads of firecrackers and fireworks going off…. but as someone who’s used to Dutch innercity NY eve fireworks, this wasn’t all that much more. Still fun to walk around though!

The next day my friend took me to the Shanghai Confucius Temple where every year many students go to pray for good luck in their exams this year. While we were there, several students were going through the prayer ceremony with their parents and almost man-sized incense sticks.

Back in Shanghai proper, I was expecting a fairly quiet city. Relatively speaking, I guess it still was. But walking around many more people were using today as a day out in the city, and the streets were still buzzing with people – even if they were more relaxed than the usual rush outside.

Welcome to the year of the horse! Online reports on predictions for this year seem mixed and generally quite full of instability and uncertainty. Should be an interesting one…. (at least for me!).

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